From Socialist Voice, February 2007

Labour in disarray

There is a truism in life: If you are in a hole, stop digging. The election strategy of the present leader of the Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte, of tying himself to Fine Gael is clearly not working in Labour’s favour but, as it has always done, has given the kiss of life to a reactionary political party.
     Rabbitte spurned all overtures to build a clear political alternative to the establishment parties, which could have embraced the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, and progressive independent TDs. Instead he took the well-worn path of hoping to form an alternative anti-Fianna Fáil coalition.
     But Rabbitte is not happy to be just a prop for Fine Gael. He has now joined the ranks of the “cut taxes” brigade with his proposal at the special conference to cut the lower rate of tax by 2 per cent. No doubt he was attempting to disarm one of the current government’s—and in particularly the PDs’—most strident criticisms of any potential alternative coalition between Fine Gael and the Labour Party as a high-spending, high-tax government.
     This latest attempt by a drowning Rabbitte to grasp at the “cut taxes” straw will do little to save an endless slide into political oblivion. The Labour Party leadership have been scrambling around for several years while dreaming up ways of appealing to the viciously anti-tax elements among large sections of the middle class, and to show the business elite that they are a safe pair of hands. The Green Party is kept well in the background as a possible third leg of any potential coalition.
     The Labour Party leader has now put himself in the camp of those who push the belief that tax cuts are a solution. He now follows the whole sorry ragtailed lot who push the neo-liberalist view that people must be given “choice” in how they spend their wages, that small government means small taxes, which result in a choice in public transport, health, and schools.
     The role of public services, and the very idea of social solidarity, run contrary to the thrust embedded within such “choice.”
     One of the difficulties with this cutting of income taxes in a period of economic boom relates to what the consequences will be when the inevitable economic downturn takes place. The deeply entrenched “choice” values will prevent any and every attempt to raise taxes to meet the demands placed on the public purse.
     In times of economic growth you invest your tax revenue in developing the infrastructure that is required, in the form of railways, roads, hospitals, and schools; and in periods of downturn you can reduce taxes to stimulate growth.
     The most progressive demand, and the one that the labour movement should be campaigning for at this time, is for a widening of the tax bands and a tax on wealth—not a reduction in tax rates.

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